Opportunities, Reflection, Memories, Home

I think it is safe to say I love baseball. I love the sport itself, and the uniqueness (no clock, defense initiates action) of the sport.

I don’t like interleague play, designated hitters, nor do I want to see expanded instant replay, but the game itself, the strategies, the sounds and smells of the game, give me a rush whenever I get the opportunity to watch baseball. Just as much as the game itself, though, I love what baseball can teach.

The late A. Bartlett Giamatti, whom I consider one of the greatest baseball commissioners, (who was taken from the world way too early) once said, “Baseball is like no other sport you know. It mirrors life so well that sometimes the more I think about it, the more reflective I get. For instance, baseball has first base, second base and third base, but it doesn’t have a fourth base. It has home. Home to the dugout, to the team, to the family.

“Go out in the world, touch all the bases, but where it counts, come home.”

My experiences have lent me opportunities to try and teach academic, athletic, and life skills and how many activities we do in schools, groups, or on teams can mirror life. I hope I’ve taught the importance of family (team) to all with whom I’ve worked, and in this forum, I’ve often spoken of my roots, family activities, what/how my parents taught us, in effect, after my many years of being out in the world, (not out of this world), so I think I’m echoing Mr. Giamatti’s sentiment of coming home.

I was recently given another privileged opportunity which involved the sport of baseball, and as it was happening, it brought me mentally back home a number of times.

On Sept. 21 this year, I was one of nine people selected to be a part of the Cleveland Indians Season Ticket Holder Starting Lineup.

Before the game on that Saturday night, Sally and I got to go out onto the field before the Tribe squared off against Houston.

I was then escorted to a spot in front of the Indians dugout and got to see players and coaches up close. Nick Swisher came out and high-fived all of us. Jason Giambi scared some of us walking through the dugout with his intense game face. We then lined up to take the field. Upon introduction, I got to run onto the field at my “position” and stand there awaiting the Tribe player playing that position that night, have a quick chat with him, receive an autographed baseball from him, and then run off the field with a grin on my face that lasted days (still there) after the event.

I’ve been on that field before, as Jon and I attended a few Indians Camps conducted on that field when he was younger.

I also attended the “Snow Days” the Indians sponsored a few years ago, and about four years ago for Fathers’ Day, my family got me tickets to go to Progressive Field to watch the away game between the Tribe and the Cubs on the scoreboard, and then go onto the field to play catch after the game.

The female contingent of the Lombardo clan voted to send Jon as my playing partner, which was very special, but the opportunity on the evening of Sept. 21 brought out so much reflection and many trips home just in those few minutes.

As I stood on that field awaiting my player to meet me, I scanned the entire crowd, the scoreboard, and into the dugouts, and I began many mental journeys back home.

When I looked into the Astros dugout, I saw their manager, Bo Porter, and remembered him being the manager of the Jamestown Jammers not so very long ago. I got to make a memory trip home right then.

As I looked around the stadium bowl, I thought back to those Sunday Doubleheaders against the Yankees my Dad, my brother Lou, Uncle Joe, cousins Greg and Jim, and I attended years ago.

Even though this was a new stadium, I turned around to the spot in the outfield seating area which matched, or was close to, the spot where we sat. In my mind I was coming home again.

As I continued scanning the park, I recalled spots there where Jon and I played catch together at Tribe camps, the Fathers’ Day outing, and then I recalled the game of catch we played at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, about eight years after the movie was an Academy Award nominee.

(Also part of that trip was a game at Wrigley Field and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Caray.) More mental side trips back home as I stood there.

When my player came out, I was like a kid on Christmas morning as I shook hands with Jason Kipnis, the Indians’ No. 3 hitter that night.

I told him that I saw him play in his first year of professional ball when he played center field for Mahoning Valley in the NY-Penn League and played here in Jamestown.

He remembered Diethrick Park and I told him he’s come a long way in a short time since his days in the same division as Jamestown. Again, my mind took a journey back home.

Kipnis is now the Tribe’s second baseman.

I was standing in the second baseman’s spot on that field and before Kipnis got there, I also thought of all the house league, Cooperstown Kids, all-star, high school, travel league, tournament, and college games I watched Jon play from age 5 through college graduation.

You see, Jon’s primary position through his baseball experiences was second base. I got chills recalling all those games and experiences and then getting my chance to run onto a major league field and stand at the position where Jon ran to so many times. My mind found its way home once again.

This one experience, lasting about 30 minutes, made me believe what Bart Giamatti was trying to convey.

I believe Mr. Giamatti was reminding us that no matter where we go, or end up, or what we do, we should keep our mental GPS set, and after we’ve touched all of life’s bases, to take us home every once in a while. Many times we say the best part of a vacation is going home. Keep going back home, mentally or physically. It’ll be well worth the trip!